ST. PETERSBURG — Sixty minutes after the final out of Saturday's 4-2 win, as a handful of Rays lingered in the clubhouse, Jason Bartlett plopped down at his locker, still emotionally tapped by the preceding events.
As much as Friday was about determination and drama — the Rays coming back from a seven-run deficit and winning on B.J. Upton's walkoff homer — Saturday exemplified another theme from last season: battling, executing and winning close games.
"These are the kind of games that we're going to play pretty much all the way throughout the year," Evan Longoria said. "We have to figure out how to win them, and I think we started that today."
The Rays (18-20) think they're on to something, having won seven of 11, playing, and winning, more in what they consider their way.
"Things feel like they're coming around," Bartlett said. "The bullpen's holding a lead. We're scoring just enough runs. We're making a pitch when we need to. We're getting a hit when we need to. That was last year's team. We've got new faces, but we've got to keep on going, and things will turn out better.
"Someone mentioned (Friday) you could kind of see B.J. was going to do something special. You just kind of get that feeling now. After the game (Saturday), I was drained; that's how much adrenaline was going. That's how it should be; you have to go out there with that fight, that fire to win."
The Rays showed it all over the field on the Fox network stage. They built a 3-0 lead on an Upton homer and a key hit by Bartlett, hung on after the Indians scored twice and added a key extra run as Ben Zobrist came through yet again before they closed it out.
"That's the way we play," starter Matt Garza said.
It was evident on the mound. Garza, knowing the bullpen was depleted, battled his way through six innings with a career-high 120 pitches, including 41 in his final frame and 11 to his last batter, Luis Valbuena.
"I believe in him," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's one of those rare guys that you feel, when a game gets deeper, he can work through that moment."
It was evident again and again and again in the next three innings as relievers Brian Shouse, Grant Balfour and Joe Nelson got three big outs each.
The Rays were tidy in the field, playing their usual, though recently elusive, clean game.
And they did what they had to at the plate, winning for only the third time with fewer than five runs and improving to 8-9 in games decided by one or two.
Upton, who ended Friday's game, got the Rays started with a searing line drive off Carl Pavano that hit the grating on the leftfield foul pole 9 feet above the ground.
Bartlett, fourth in the American League with a .359 average, came up big the next inning after failing to get down a bunt with two on. His first one went foul. Then when he showed bunt and took the next pitch — "Something we had been talking about doing," Maddon said — Gabe Gross and Akinori Iwamura moved up on stolen bases. Relieved of sacrificial duties, Bartlett worked the count and instead slapped a single up the middle to score both.
"I would have been happy either way," he said, "but those two ribbies always help."
Reluctant about comparisons with last season, and still cautious about what's ahead, Maddon likes what he's seeing now.
"We didn't make the critical mistake," he said. "Oftentimes it's something that appears to be small but becomes big. We didn't do that. The last couple games we've been able to do that. That's how I expect us to play."